Literary reviewers greeted Qiu Xiaolong’s Chief Inspector Chen novels with warmth, albeit more for their setting and literary texture than for their plots. Before the first in the series, Death of a Red Heroine, appeared in 2000, relatively few novels in English dealt with the changes taking place in the People’s Republic of China in the 1990’s from a Chinese point of view. Accordingly, Qiu’s descriptions of his native Shanghai piqued the interest of critics and readers alike. The novels reveal a exuberant nation in transition from a largely closed, state-controlled economy and society to a much more open, capitalistic society. They also portray the conflicts between the Communist Party and the new openness and between traditional Chinese values and the modern mania for material wealth.
Although some reviewers found Qiu’s English prose style somewhat stilted and his text burdened with explanations of Chinese culture, many cited the freshness of his writing. It was said to bring an engaging realism to his characters and convey much vivid information about such matters as Chinese cuisine and architecture. Moreover, critics considered his inclusion of Chinese and English poetry as innovative, moving, and evocative in establishing the intellectual milieu of Shanghai. Death of a Red Heroine was awarded the 2001 Anthony Award for Best First Mystery and named one of the year’s best five political novels by The Wall Street Journal and one of the ten best books by National Public Radio in 2000.